Reacting to “Marriage Requires Amnesia” New York Times
Last week, The New York Times published an article entitled “Marriage Requires Amnesia: Do I hate my husband? Oh for sure, yes, definitely.” and it's...a lot.
Courtney: Hello everyone and welcome back to The Ace Couple podcast. My name is Courtney, I’m here with my spouse Royce, and we have been married for over seven years, which means that all of the Allos I’ve ever met think that this is the point when we’re gonna start hating each other but funnily enough… We don’t hate each other! Do we, Royce?
Courtney: So, we thought it would be fun today to talk about married couples who do hate each other… [laughs] Very recently, there was a quite prominent op-ed posted on the New York Times by a woman who [pauses] seems to not have the greatest of marriages… I personally have not read this yet, but Twitter is abuzz with many great quotes coming out of context from this, that really got my curiosity piqued. So, that’s what we’re gonna go over today. Royce, you have read this article. What is the title of this article?
Royce: The title and subtitle of this article is: “Marriage Requires Amnesia: Do I hate my husband? Oh for sure, yes, definitely.”
Courtney: [laughs] “For sure. Yes. Definitely.” That’s a lot of… uhm… positive reinforcement that she doesn’t, in fact, hate her husband. So, Royce, since you have read this and I have not I’m going in blind. Why don’t you start us off by telling us a little bit about this article.
Royce: Sure. So, I’m gonna read it and get your reaction to a lot of this, but a little bit of a background…This article was published about a week ago in the New York Times. It was written by Heather Havrileksy. She’s a professional writer, she’s been writing for quite a long time now, over 20 years. She’s published a few books and is most famous for an ongoing advice column called “Ask Polly”, it’s been running weekly for nine years now.
Courtney: Oh… So… So, this is a woman who’s been giving other people life advice.
Courtney: Even better…
Royce: And I was unfamiliar with her work before this article came out. I did a quick search before we sat down to record this, and it gave me the impression that it’s a lot of general Q&A style life advice, like, you would expect out of a– most advice columns, not explicitly focused on relationships, although relationship topics do come up often enough. And some of it does at least try to approach topics with a bit of hyperbolic humor. And I’m mentioning all of this because I want you to keep this in mind as we read through the article.
Courtney: I can’t wait.
Royce: … Because I’m– I’m trying to be as fair as I can be… but it’s tough.
Courtney: [laughs] Oh that’s a great start.
Royce: Now, now this article, this essay, the one published in the New York Times earlier this week, was adapted from an upcoming book of hers, called “Foreverland: On The Divine Tedium Of Marriage”
Courtney: The divine… tedium… of marriage… wow… oh… I– I don’t want to be too judgmental, but please, tell me that’s like a Christian publisher. Is this a Christian press? I don’t know, something about just the… christian-cishet-normativity of it all… I feel like that’s very much the target audience for “So! You’re trapped in a miserable marriage, huh? Well, you’ll just have to learn to live with it! Because divorce isn’t an option!”
Royce: What’s your take on HarperCollins?
Courtney: Oh that’s– that’s a big five. Are they “big four” now? they’re– they’re– they’re a big publisher.
Royce: Well, anyway. Let’s get into it.
Courtney: Oh yes, let’s.
Royce: So again: “Marriage Requires Amnesia: Do I hate my husband? Oh for sure, yes, definitely.”
Royce: [reading] «After 15 years of marriage, you start to see your mate clearly, free of your own projections and misperceptions. This is not necessarily a good thing. When encountering my husband, Bill, in our shared habitat, I sometimes experience him as a tangled hill of dirty laundry.»
Courtney: Oh NO! [laughs]
Royce: [reading] «“Who left this here?” I ask myself.»
Courtney: Oh no [laughs] Honey, you left him there… you married him.
Royce: [reading] «and then the laundry gets up to fetch itself a cup of coffee. This is not an illusion; it’s clarity. Until Bill has enough coffee, he lies in a jumble on the couch, listening to the coffee maker, waiting for it to usher him from the land of the undead. He is exactly the same as a heap of laundry: smelly, inert, almost sentient but not quite.»
Courtney: Oh my goodness, oh wow– [sighs] Oh this is a lot– So, I mean, I think everybody can relate in some way to the, like you know, “don’t talk to me before I had my coffee” or… or “I’m not a real person until I’ve had my coffee” like that… that’s a thing people say, even if you don’t experience that you know people say that…
Royce: but not– not all couples drop directly into subhuman comparisons…?
Courtney: It’s the subhuman comparison… and the fact that she explicitly says “this isn’t my illusion of my husband, this is clarity” clarity implies that you are seeing something for what it is. So, she is literally saying “when I don’t have the rose covered–” like the [laughs] “rose-colored glasses of romance and early love, my husband is a literal smelly pile of laundry.” [sighs]
Royce: [reading] «Other times I experience Bill as a very handsome professor, a leader among men, a visionary who has big ideas about the future of science education in America. This is clarity.»
Courtney: Okay, so he he’s a dirty smelly pile of laundry, but he’s an EDUCATED pile of laundry.
Royce: At least after the morning coffee.
Courtney: …after the coffee…
Royce: [reading] «And then our dashing hero begins to hold forth on “the learning sciences” — how I hate that term! — and he quickly wilts before my eyes into a cursed academic, a cross between a lonely nerd speaking some archaic language only five other people on earth understand and a haunted ice cream man, circling his truck through the neighborhood in the dead of winter, searching for children.»
Royce: [reading] «I see Bill with a scorching clarity that pains me.»
Courtney: I don’t even know how to interpret “haunted ice cream man searching for children.”
Royce: That one went over my head too.
Courtney: Wha– what– what– what’s this woman’s name?
Courtney: Heather. What are you saying Heather? I mean the cursed academic that’s all– that’s just all academics, but haunted ice cream ma–? Alright.
Royce: [reading] «This is why surviving a marriage requires turning down the volume on your spouse so you can barely hear what they’re saying. You must do this not only so you don’t overdose on the same stultifying words and phrases within the first year, but also so your spouse’s various grunts and sneezes and snorts and throat clearings don’t serve as a magic flute that causes you to wander out the front door and into the wilderness, never to return.»
Courtney: You have to turn down the volume until you can hardly hear them? Some– I… I may be going out on a limb here, but it could be that these two don’t… communicate effectively.
Royce: That’s certainly what it sounds like, because she… is very noise averse it seems, random noise verse, I don’t know exactly what that is, if it’s just a repetition… well, she’s clearly used to it now after all of this time of marriage, but there’s that, and we’ll get into much more verbose description here pretty soon, but it’s also she mentioned repetitive conversations…
Courtney: Yeah, have they just run out of things to… Ye– so, so there could be a couple of different things here. There definitely is at least a trope of people running out of things to talk about… after, you know, the romance phase or the first few years of marriage…
Royce: That happens particularly if life is fairly stagnant, which can happen, if you’re working the same job for long enough. Or if your partner isn’t interested in discussing the the details of said job, or whatever new comes your way.
Courtney: Yeah, that’s– I mean, I don’t feel like you and I have run out of interesting and engaging conversation, so I can be thankful for that, but there’s also some people who just, you know, have fixations. I mean, I personally have OCD, if not other things… that– that can cause me to get just like really hyper fixated on something…? And sometimes, I just feel like that’s all I can think about or talk about until I have, you know, resolved something internally in my brain or a situation feels wrapped up with a nice little bow.
Courtney: So, I really hope that it’s more the former than the latter. I don’t know Bill, I don’t– I don’t know her husband, but that’s where– that’s where it gets muddy to speculate on other people’s relationships, because we don’t know their hearts. We just know what she’s putting in the New York Times for the entire world to see, and that he’s a… a pile of ice cream man garbage…
Royce: … who sneezes loudly.
Royce: As we’ll see, as we’ll get into now.
Courtney: Does he do the “old man sneezes”? How old are these people? Because [laughs] there is the trope of the old man sneeze that’s… I have to turn way away from the microphone if I’m gonna do this… where they go, like [exaggerated sneeze][laughs]
Royce: Well according to Heather: [reading] «When Bill sneezes, no matter how far away he is, it’s like a blast from an air horn aimed at your face.»
Royce: [reading] «Somehow there are two notes involved, a screechy high one and a shouty low one.»
Royce: [reading] «Every sneeze is an emergency.»
Courtney: [continues laughing]
Royce: [reading] «I don’t think I’ve ever not said “Jesus Christ” out loud upon hearing one.»
Courtney: [cackles more]
Royce: [reading] «Bill also clears his throat constantly. He’s just a phlegmy guy in general. I can almost get away with being this mean about him because he has remained the same amount of smart and kind and extremely attractive that he was when I met him 17 years ago. This is just how it feels to be doomed to live and eat and sleep next to the same person until you’re dead.»
Royce: [reading] «Because the resolution on your spouse becomes clearer and clearer by the year, you must find compensatory ways to blur and pixelate them back into a soft, muted, faintly fantastical fog.»
Courtney: Is this what they mean when they say “fog of love”? [laughs] That’s that rom-com board game that we still have to play sometime.
Royce: Well, you’ve already mentioned rose-colored glasses once, it’s just… you’re picking out which pair to wear today.
Courtney: Yeah… yeah, it’s– that’s interesting… I did pick up on just one little line where earlier she was like “I can almost get away with being this mean,” so she… she… she’s gotta know in her heart of hearts… so like, this is a little bit much… [laughs] she herself says “I can ALMOST get away with that.”
Royce: But to harp on this for a couple of paragraphs in this article, and also mention he’s just a “phlegmy guy” in general, it makes me think about, like, in our own relationship there are things we’ve had to work around, you have disabilities…
Royce: I have anxiety, sometimes that makes some situations difficult and we’ve just figured out how to do that. I feel like, if your partner’s congestion is causing you daily stress…? There’s probably a medical solution for that or to at least help it a little bit or something like that. I would think.
Courtney: And you’re talking about her, or are you talking about him? Or both…
Royce: I feel like there is a solution that is not just “my life is phlegm and sneeze air horns.”
Courtney: Well, because, I mean, that could also be a medical issue too. Like, he’s just a phlegmy guy and, and I don’t know, by the way she’s writing it if this is an inherent over-exaggeration just because she’s thinking about every time this has bothered her for the last 15 years, it could very well be an appropriate amount of phlegm but we just we don’t have all the facts! But there are things that could be at play that have her, you know, a little more on edge about this, you know, misophonia is a real thing. Which is just, can give people this visceral response to certain sounds… and normally it’s very bodily sounds often focused around the mouth; like chewing or, or perhaps clearing throat, smacking lips, things like that. And that’s– that’s a real medical condition.
Courtney: This could be a situation where she has that. At which point, there’s still things to do to work through that, there’s still, you know, various therapies you can try and it it could be aggravated by other things, like stress and anxiety… because, I think a lot of people are very prone to bottling up their their stress and anxiety, their– their daily woes, their depressions, and just sort of projecting that onto whatever little nuisance is right in front of them. Where if you live with someone, that person’s right in front of you for a long time, and that’s– that’s a very misplaced form of anger. Like, we can’t get mad at Bill for having phlegm and clearing his throat, because he’s not doing anything wrong.
Royce: And I can attest to situational sound aversion as well. I’ve noticed that when my base level of stress or anxiety is particularly high that is the only time when certain repetitive noises, like ambient noises, will actually bother– bother me. But I’m also aware that it’s not a rational response, it’s not– the noise itself is not the problem.
Courtney: Oh yeah, absolutely. And I don’t know if I have full on misophonia or not, but there are very certain sounds that just will absolutely set me on edge, like I need to plug my ears if it’s on tv, I need to turn the sound off, I need to leave the room, it’s very very situational. It’s normally like when I hear whispering that’s too close to a microphone. And I know a lot of people like asmr and they get sort of that tingly happy feeling… I get, like the opposite of that. If someone whispers into a microphone the only thing I can hear is like the little bubbles of saliva in their mouth as– as they’re whispering and that drives me absolutely up the wall. I can’t handle that. That’s not a sound I hear coming from you, I can imagine if I heard that sound coming from you like regularly several times a day, I probably would be quite bothered, but we’d– we’d have to figure something out. Not just, I wouldn’t be like, running up to the New York Times to post an op-ed about how much I hate you. [laughs]
Royce: Yeah, that’s a conversation. “Hey, don’t whisper in my general vicinity.”
Courtney: Yeah, let’s– let’s stop the whispering!
Royce: Okay, back to the article. [reading] «It’s not easy, though. Because when Bill clears his throat, it’s like the fussiest butler in the mansion is about to make a very important announcement and he needs to get the attention of all of the children and wives and animals within earshot.»
Courtney: [exaggerated coughs][laughs]
Royce: [reading] «But when you look up from your work, there is no butler there. There is only Bill, staring dumbly at his laptop, with no crucial proclamation forthcoming.»
Courtney: Would it be better if he did have a proclamation? [laughs]
Royce: Just have a few of them ready to throw out when the need arises?
Courtney: [laughs] Yeah, if that’s the problem, is that he doesn’t have a proclamation, he should just keep, like, really wild off the wall like trivia facts in his back pocket [stifled laughs] to just blurt out, like “[exaggerated coughs] Did you know that Australia declared war on emus and LOST?” Like that, you can’t be mad about that. I don’t know, maybe Heather could be mad about that, I couldn’t. In fact, you should do that for me, just give– give me weird facts I’ve never heard of occasionally, sporadically, throughout the day.
Royce: Continuing onward. [reading] «Do I hate my husband? Oh for sure, yes, definitely. I don’t know anyone who’s been married more than seven years who flinches at this concept. A spouse is a blessing and a curse wrapped into one. How could it be otherwise? How is hatred not the natural outcome of sleeping so close to another human for years?»
Courtney: We’ve been married more than seven years, and I’m flinching at this essay.
Royce: Essay disproven. We can all go home now.
Courtney: [laughs] FALSE! Yeah. So. [sighs] this also just tells me that this woman also keeps the company of other miserably married people, and maybe… maybe that’s, you know, a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of thing, you know, “everyone I know also has these long ongoing relationship woes, so this is clearly normal and natural.”
Royce: I think there’s a bit of modern antiquity to this sentiment as well, like– Heather and Bill are a bit older than we are. I don’t know exactly how much, they don’t say, and we also tend to be on the more progressive side of our own generation…
Royce: …but looking back just even to, like, our grandparents’ time, from then to now, the way that people dated and got married and had families, those timelines have changed drastically. And the behaviors around them have changed drastically. And I think that statistically, a lot of older couples have gotten into unhealthy relationships and unhealthy marriages and just stuck with it because that was the expectation. You just settled and did the thing.
Courtney: Yeah, you kind of just did the thing. And I… think there’s gotta also be a failure of creativity, because pre– I mean, she’s even said like there is still love there. It’s not pure hatred. But if you do genuinely love someone and it is worth it for you to continue to be married, continue to be… presumably monogamous by the way they’re talking… if something’s not working you gotta figure out a way to make it better… because when she says things like “how is hatred not the natural progression of sleeping next to someone for so many years?” Is that a turn of phrase she’s using just– you know, those are the words she chose because it sounds nice, has a good flow to it, or is she literally feeling like sometimes it’s hard to literally sleep next to you? And is this… we get separate bedrooms, kind of a situation.
Royce: Hold that thought. Let’s get it one more paragraph and we’ll– we’ll come back to that…
Courtney: Oh, okay.
Royce: Heather continues: [reading] «Unless you plug a propofol drip into your arm every single night, how do you encounter those unwelcome grunts and gravelly snores as anything but oppressive? Unless you spend most of your waking hours daydreaming, how do you tolerate this meddling presence, rearranging stuff but never actually putting it away, opening bills but never actually paying them, shedding his tissues and his dirty socks all over your otherwise pristine habitat?»
Courtney: mh… mh-mm… mh-mm… So yeah, there’s a clashing of… habits and environment here. And yeah, I mean, as you age things change, it could be that. I mean, you can develop sleep apnea… you can develop conditions that do make your breathing and sleeping louder, and that can be difficult for people who sleep in the same bed. But some people also just have a harder time sleeping as they get older… and there are just so many things. And I mean, maybe they have tried a whole bunch of things, I don’t know, maybe they have tried you know… sleeping remedies, remedies for whatever breathing phlegm issues happening, maybe that’s all been tried before, but there is absolutely 100% nothing wrong with just having two bedrooms.
Courtney: If you– if you have the room for it. If you can. I mean heck, we– we even know a married couple who have totally separate houses. They’re– they’re married, they love each other, they’ve been together a long time, but they have their own separate houses, and I know that’s not the norm, but if that’s what works for you like, more power to you.
Royce: And to speak more about resolving shared spaces. That’s something that’s going to come up in any… any cohabitation setting, whether it’s a relationship, especially with relationships, because you tend to share the same bedroom, but also just with roommates. And anytime people who haven’t lived together come together and have to share the same space… you’re going to start to realize that your upbringing, your house, your family, is weird! And–
Royce: … and so is everyone else’s!
Courtney: Everyone’s family is weird!
Royce: Everyone does something differently. If you can think back to the first time you slept over at a friend’s house and they had a different routine, and they ate different kinds of food, and just the basic things, the layout, the house, the patterns, the habits, everything was a little different than what you’re used to. When it comes to cohabitation, one of the early conversations you have to have are where can we compromise our habits and how much isolated, singular space do we need. Do we have enough room for each person to have a space that is just theirs, and the other person doesn’t mess with it? In the– the bedroom, are there sides? Is it okay if one side is a little messier than the other if it doesn’t get in the other person’s way?
Courtney: Right, right. And I mean, personal space is– is such a variable thing, because I truly believe that every person is different and every relationship is different. Some people need a lot of their own space and a lot of their own time. Some people not as much. And this is all stuff that like, I feel like, you should have figured out 15 years on…?
Royce: This is like ‘first year of living together’ stuff.
Courtney: I feel like… It kind of does feel like they have things that have just never been resolved and are just snowballing into more and more frustration.
Royce: Continuing on: [reading]«“Well, speak for yourself. I don’t hate my husband,” one of you holier-than-thou marrieds might announce.»
Courtney: Oh damn it. We’re the “holier-than-thou marrieds”…?
Royce: [reading]«folding your hands primly in your lap. Do you think I can’t see your left eye twitching ever so slightly, as you resolve to never let each little irritation add up and move into your conscious mind like a plastic bag floating out to sea and then joining the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? I admire your restraint. But you can’t spend 17 years with someone as noisy as my husband and never let it get under your skin. Yes, of course I also love him. And for years, I couldn’t remotely imagine a suitable replacement for all of those bad noises. But then I started to use my imagination a lot more.»
Courtney: Has she heard of headphones? [laughs]
Royce: White noise.
Courtney: Okay. [laughs]
Royce: Well, this is interesting. I skimmed this article earlier, but it’s clear that she is aware that there’s a snowballing effect.
Royce: It’s just not being resolved.
Courtney: mh-mm… And she’s just taking it as fact,because the thing is so
Royce: Yes, minor irritations happen.
Courtney: Yeah, and I guess– I guess we’re the ‘holier than thou marrieds’ right now so sorry [laughs] but she’s also turning it back and being like “oh you, you’re saying you don’t hate each other but I know you’re lying wink wink” and it’s like, we’re not… this is the kind of thing that makes me just go like, are the Allos okay??? I don’t understand. I just, I can’t put myself in this frame of mind. and the fact that if– if she were to listen in on this conversation or we were to be talking to her she would just straight up– seems like she wouldn’t believe us that we don’t have this issue…? and it boggles my mind.
Royce: [reading] «Who needs to be cheerful when the plane to Sydney is delayed by eight hours at midnight? Who speaks calmly when one kid starts sobbing uncontrollably? Who pretends that Doritos and almonds make a fun late-night dinner at the airport newsstand? Who manages all of the reservations and the money and the plans through a jet-lagged haze once we finally arrive in Australia? Who books the flights and the ferries and researches the eco-friendly island retreat on the Great Barrier Reef?»
Royce: [reading] «Who talks cheerfully through each unpredictable tour through each Australian town full of unpredictable Australian relatives her husband hasn’t seen for decades? Who engages in the 105th hour of an ongoing discussion about Bill’s Bad Knee, which includes speculation, revised imaginary diagnoses, and in-depth analysis of a level of pain that she herself would file under Not Worth Mentioning at All, Ever, Not Even for a Second?»
Courtney: Hmm so australian… so– so, they– they know about the Great Emu War… so I rescind that particular fact to declare after the [clears throat][laughs] But there have got to be better ones out there.
Royce: Maybe that’s one of the conversations she was mentioning earlier being frustrated at having multiple times a year
Courtney: Honestly, I don’t think we have enough conversations about the Great Emu War. And we do have this conversation a few times a year. So, if that’s the conversation Heather, lineup. It’s a great conversation. There are many worse ones.
Royce: [reading] «And when we arrive at that island in the Great Barrier Reef, the one populated at this time of year by thousands of birds, birds squawking and cawing and clucking and screeching, birds every two feet, bird droppings covering literally every inch of ground, who makes up a game where the first person to get hit by flying bird poop wins an ice cream cone?»
Royce: [reading] «Who says it’s OK for one kid not to snorkel? Who says it’s OK for both kids to snorkel without her, since she gets seasick? Who goes snorkeling anyway because both kids want Mommy there, since Daddy will ignore them because he’s super-jacked to snorkel the hell out of the Great Barrier Reef? Who asks the snorkeling guide if she’d be better off in the boat if she’s starting to feel queasy?»
Royce: [reading] «Who smiles when the snorkeling guide says, in his cavalier Australian-tough-guy accent, that he’s not sure because he’s never met anyone who got seasick from snorkeling before? Who bites her tongue instead of asking the snorkeling dude if he has eyes in his thick skull since obviously plenty of mortal humans over the age of 40 feel ill when they bob on massive swells while looking down fifty feet into a murky shark-filled abyss?»
Royce: [reading] «And then who gets sick, as predicted, but doesn’t say a single word about it, even as a wave of colorful fish swarms the scene and everyone marvels and wonders why they suddenly appeared, like magic?»
Courtney: It’s so– this is incredibly passive aggressive. And I– I can’t get past that.
Royce: It’s still continuing.
Courtney: That’s not even the end of it?
Courtney: Oh my goodness. This is such a specific– like obviously this exact thing has happened to you. You are just recounting a miserable traveling experience you had. It sounds like she doesn’t like to travel, and she’s– she’s taking it out passive aggressively, because she’s not even having this conversation to her husband, she’s having this conversation to an op-ed on the New York Times!
Royce: [reading] «But none of these maneuvers help. One daughter says, “I hate this place,” the second she sets her feet on the sand. The other daughter says, “Why would you do that?” in response to every action taken by another family member. But the man is the worst of all. He says, “Stop it, stop it, stop it, just stop it!” on a constant loop, morning and night.»
Royce: [reading] «I am reaching my limit. I have been outperforming, trying to make everything better, but I am stuck in an overheated tropical hut with three angry birds that repeat the same words over and over while a sea of angrier birds outside surrounds us and mocks us. The silver gull cries, I hate this. The shearwater snipes, Why would you do that? The buff-sided rail says, Stop it stop it stop it just stop it!»
Courtney: [sighs] Okay, stop. No. Before it was kind of fun to– to poke fun at this, but I absolutely draw the line at ‘this is not playfully poking fun at this anymore’ because now she’s being unnecessarily mean to her own children too. And like, yeah, as much as we can say, you know, talk through your marriage issues, like, communicate, be creative, try to figure it out, like, your children have done nothing to deserve this. Absolutely nothing! And– and now you’re– you’re here in the New York Times calling them squawking birds? Birds that are annoying the hell out of you? Along with your husband? That’s nah– I can’t– I can’t do that. And now it makes me question is– is this less about just your marriage, and you are completely unhappy with your entire family structure? Because there– there’s no reason to be mean to the kids. There– there’s none.
Royce: I’m gonna try to get through this whole passage.
Courtney: Okay [laughs] It’s still going!
Royce: [reading] «I’ve been feeling ill since we arrived on the ferry. There is no air-conditioning and there are no screens on the windows because we are now honorable eco-warrior vacationers. I have a cut on my finger that I’m pretty sure is infected. I’ve been battling insomnia for over a year.»
Courtney: uhm… There it is.
Royce: [reading] «But I don’t say a word about how bad I feel. You don’t believe me, but it’s true! Thanks to writing an advice column for years. I have evolved, unlike my spouse. I am so good, so thoughtful, so generous. Tiny ants are in my drinking cup. A rash guard cannot be located. Someone refuses to shower off, even though it will help with the heat. Someone else announces that she won’t snorkel or swim or go anywhere today. I rearrange the beds. I drink my tea. The chaotic repeating chorus of kids and parents and birds continues. Everyone in the room is yelling now. The bed sways gently like a raft at sea.»
Royce: [reading] «Finally, I break. “You ALL need to make less noise!” I announce. “And you,” I say to the big one, “you’re the worst of all. You can’t hear a noise without making another noise!” At first they all start making noises at once. So I raise my voice. “No,” I tell them. “I can’t fix this anymore! I am broken!” “It’s true, but …” “I’m sorry, Mommy.” But I can’t stop. “Who could stand this? I need a break! Go have breakfast without me!” My family exits guiltily.»
Courtney: The same woman who’s pre– like preemptively saying “you– you holier than thou marrieds out there who claim to not hate each other” she’s getting a little sassy with us for being holier than thou, but she literally just said that she is more evolved than her husband? did– did I remember that line right?
Royce: That’s correct. But I took that as a– a self-acknowledgement. That over many, many years now, she’s put too much of a burden on herself and is finally admitting that.
Courtney: Oh okay… That– that’s a more generous reading of it. You may be right. Yeah, so, traveling can be really stressful for a lot of people. It sounds like she doesn’t really like traveling, or at least not taking this specific trip. But she’s also complaining about, you know, booking the tickets, doing the airport, all things that do stress a lot of people out. And I mean, Royce, you’re– you’re a fairly anxious traveler, a lot more so than I am.
Royce: Yeah. I generally prefer to not.
Courtney: And I do like traveling. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been anywhere in almost three years because of a certain pandemic, but I rarely travel just for, like, vacation and relaxation, but I have quite frequently in the past traveled for research, to teach workshops, to lecture at conferences, and things of that nature. And I always love it, every time. I feel like I have a below average level of stress when it comes to booking flights and being at the airport, so I’ve definitely got that going for me, but the pain… like I have a lot of physical body pain and fatigue that can make traveling very, very difficult. Especially when airports are not good with accommodations, which many of them are not.
Courtney: And so, there are issues to traveling, but you and I, we’ve only tried going on one trip that was kind of just a four fun trip. We went to Chicago together once. And I think, other than that, we’ve had, like, a business reason for traveling or a family reason for visiting someone. And while I had a lot of fun on that trip to Chicago, I remember getting back home and you just saying, like “I think I’ve– I’ve traveled enough. I don’t– I don’t think I need to travel anymore.”
Royce: Yeah… we packed that trip pretty tight. It was a lot. I was exhausted during the trip. I was more exhausted after the trip, it was a lot.
Courtney: That– that’s kind of just how I traveled, just because I try to be very frugal when traveling. So like, let’s do the fewest days possible, but try to get as much done per day. Which is not always good for the the fatigue and the stress and– and the exhaustion, but that’s just sort of how I’ve operated and since I was doing the planning, because I didn’t mind doing the planning, I was happy to do it, that’s how that shook out. But, I mean, I also love traveling alone. So, when you say, like “Nah, I don’t need to go on that trip” or “I don’t really want to do extensive traveling anymore” to me, I’m like “great! I’m still gonna go travel! I’ll just travel on my own!” But that– that doesn’t really bother either of us, any– that’s just sort of the arrangement that has worked for us.
Royce: Right. And I think the other point you are working towards is that stress can come from a variety of factors. Stress and anxiety.
Courtney: Uhm… Yes, yes.
Royce: And when we were in Chicago, I got really anxious because we rented a car…
Royce: …and driving in downtown Chicago sucks.
Courtney: That was a terrible mistake honestly. That was the worst place I have ever rented a car.
Royce: same. So, but the thing is– is… it’s my job to realize when my anxiety is high. And if I’m in a condition where I can’t fix it, to say “Hey, I am super anxious right now. I need your help.”
Courtney: Yes. Asking for help is vital. Which, I don’t know if Heather here has at any point. Has she ever said, you know “I’m really stressed booking this trip. Please, I need your help with something.” Has she ever tried leveling in that way, because it– from the way she wrote exactly this, she’s like “this stress me out, this stress me out, this stress me out, my husband’s annoying me, my kids are annoying me, I feel sick, I haven’t slept, everyone’s annoying me,” and then she just sort of blows up and is like “Go away. Leave me alone!” Which is not healthy if that’s how it happened.
Royce: or going back even further: “Hey, I kick some of your clothing in our bedroom, every day, for the past several years, and it’s seriously affecting my quality of life. Can you not do that?”
Courtney: mh-mm… Yeah… Yikes. Yikes Heather. Heather and Bill, and your two poor children who are completely innocent in this, as far as I’m concerned.
Royce: We have a bit left to go here. Although we’re out of that passive aggressive vacation scenario.
Courtney: Oh thank goodness. [laughs]
Royce: [reading] «Love and hate are birds of a feather. I need you, therefore I hate you. I can never leave you, therefore you are my bunkmate in this prison we freely chose,
Royce: [reading] «back when we were younger and even stupider than we are now. No sooner are you saved than you start to resent your savior. Marriage is a solution to several problems that creates infinite additional problems. Marriage can cure your loneliness or exacerbate it. Marriage can make you feel a lot stronger than you really are and a lot weaker than you really are. Marriage can feel like a soothing meditation retreat or a dirty tryst or a very long lunch with the most head-splittingly repetitive human who ever walked the face of the earth. Each week is a little different than the last.»
Royce: [reading] «After my breakdown, I tell Bill I’m going to need some time to myself. I can’t keep everyone glued together anymore. Bill apologizes. He says traveling has been stressful. He mentions that we’ve been walking a lot, which is hard on his bad knee. He reminds me how he broke his tooth on a piece of hard bread in Melbourne.» Melbourne. I don’t know how to Australian.
Courtney: Well. This is interesting because I was born in Melbourne Florida. It depends on who you ask. I’ve heard people pronounce it both ways, but that probably varies depending on if you’re actually Australian or American.
Royce: [reading] «He reminds me of how he broke his tooth on a piece of hard bread in Melbourne a story he’s told to every single person we’ve encountered since Melbourne.»
Royce: [reading] «“I remember,” I reply, wishing I didn’t. Marriage requires amnesia, a mute button, a filter on the lens, a damper, some blinders, some bumpers, some ear plugs, a nap. You need to erase these stories, misplace this tape, zoom out, slowly dissolve to black. I start to spend more time in my head. I start to daydream more.»
Royce: Now that specifically is interesting to me, because the notion that what is needed for her– what is healthy for her to start spending more time in her head and less in the relationship, is exactly my indicator for my mental health being bad.
Courtney: That is interesting. I mean, yeah, there very much does seem to be a mental health issue here and there– there is nothing wrong with saying, you know, “I’m having a rough time. I need more rest. I need a nap. I need more quiet.” But she’s framing it from a place of “my husband is the issue, he’s too much, he’s too loud, he’s too repetitive, and so I need this to get away from him.” As opposed to, you know, “I’m really stressed. I’m really sensitive, everything seems like a much bigger deal than it is, so I know – you know – emotions are high, so I need to take a step back and take care of myself, so that I can be happier and also be there for my family in a more meaningful way.”
Courtney: It– it– it very much seems like a mental health issue. And the– the framing is just what really, really gets me. Because to say that, you know, “love and hatred are birds of a feather” like you can’t have one without the other… like, I cannot picture anything that you could do that would make me say “I hate you,” even if it’s just “I hate you right now.” Maybe it’s just that my brain doesn’t think that way, but I mean short of you, like, ripping off the mask and being like “Aha! I have been a nazi this whole time and you never knew!” Like [laughs] there’s– which would be impressive if you got that by me for this long. Like there– I can’t fathom anything you could realistically do that would make me be like “I hate you.”
Royce: Well, I think what’s actually being called hatred here is really just a history of triggers. It’s a history of experiences that have felt negative and I think every single thing mentioned in this article so far, has been poor conflict resolution and communication based.
Courtney: Yeah! It all– it all comes back to communication. It really does… That’s so, so vital. And the more people I meet, the more people I learn just can’t do communication! And it doesn’t come easily or naturally to a lot of people, so I can appreciate that, you know, a lot of people need practice.
Royce: Simple self-awareness doesn’t come easy to most people, and, and that’s a necessity that’s a starting point you have to have.
Courtney: Very true, yeah. Very, very true. Yeah. And there is– I don’t know if these people are religious, if it’s just the generational, the cultural sort of thing, but she also said something at one point that was, you know, “I can’t leave you and so I resent you” and that’s… you’re already doing something wrong if you’re in a relationship, of any kind, that you’re saying leaving is never going to be an option. Like, you’re just asking to feel trapped. If you are trapping yourself. And I know a lot of people, you know, just scrolling very briefly through Twitter today, seeing people, everyone was like “Divorce. Divorce is the answer. Divorce can be good actually!” And, I’m not saying divorce is the answer, but if you’re genuinely saying, you know, “I hate my husband” and you feel so passionately that you’re writing an op-ed and a book! You’re writing a book… then maybe you should at least consider if that’s the right option. Like consider all of your paths… I don’t know, food– food for thought I guess. And, and we’re– we are very, very lucky because I can absolutely appreciate that a lot of people have much more difficult relationships than we have. But this sounds miserable, the way she– the way she’s phrasing it.
Royce: Well we have a little bit more to go. Let me get through the rest of it and then we’ll recap.
Courtney: Sure! Yeah, Lay it on me! How do we close out?
Royce: [reading] «Surviving a marriage requires self-care, time alone, time away, meditation, escape, selfishness. I can’t blame him for being high strung, I tell myself on a walk around the island alone, headphones on, bird poop raining down every few feet. I can’t get mad just because he’s a regular mortal with flaws. When I blame him, I just feel guilty, and then I start to blame myself. But I’m just a regular mortal with flaws, too.»
Royce: [reading] «After several nights on the island, Bill and I start to tell the kids to walk back to the hotel room after dinner and use their phones for as long as they want. Then we have a drink and stare at the ocean without them. We talk about each kid’s breakdown of the day: What did the older one hate today? Which decision did the younger one question?»
Royce: [reading] «During these talks, I encourage Bill to be more like me: Give up control. Relax. Let these birds make their noises, and they’ll quiet down quickly. When you treat them like they’re doing it wrong, it only gets worse.»
Royce: [reading] «But Bill doesn’t learn new lessons that quickly. He studies the learning sciences, but he is not a good learner. So I resolve to let everyone squawk and caw until they get bored, or become distracted, or fall asleep, or cheer up. And when Bill says the wrong thing, I think, Forgive him, forgive yourself, let it go.»
Royce: [reading] «It’s harder than it sounds. But during these conversations, Bill looks handsome to me again. He sounds like someone I’m still in love with. The feeling comes back. The camera zooms in, the focus sharpens, charming little details emerge. I remember why I chose him. In spite of everything, he’s still my favorite person. I can see why we’re together. We might stay this way forever.»
Courtney: Okay. Kind of ending on a happy-ish note…
Royce: Oh that’s not how I read it at all.
Courtney: “ish” is doing a lot of work.
Royce: Yeah I mean, I think we called it in the first few paragraphs that Heather is voluntarily donning rose-colored glasses to continue onward.
Courtney: Yes, well, I– I’m– I was almost really confused with that last passage because she’s like “Oh I’m telling him to be less high strung, more like me.” She is making herself out to seem very high strung, but the difference is she’s just bottling it all up. It sounds like Bill is vocalizing his pains and annoyances, and is that a fair reading? Does that make sense to you?
Royce: Absolutely! “Give up control, relax”
Courtney: She’s not relaxing.
Royce: Not at all!
Courtney: Nothing about this…
Royce: I mean…
Courtney: … is implying that…
Royce: … a year of insomnia, she said, from all the stress, presumably.
Courtney: Yeah and– and she’s like, the airport, and the bird poop, and the kids, and she compared her family to squawking birds!
Royce: also the line that really got me near the end was “Bill doesn’t learn new lessons that quickly, he studies the learning sciences, but he’s not a good learner.” Heather’s been writing an advice column for nine years.
Courtney: [laughs] yikes… and I mean she could be right I don’t know Bill but…
Royce: She also might give good advice, I didn’t read the articles, but like I said self-awareness is very hard.
Courtney: I just– I read things like this, and I find it hard to trust anyone who puts themselves out there as someone who gives advice. Like someone who is soliciting questions from people, like “bring me your questions, your life concerns, I will give you good advice.” Like, I used to see giving advice to people as sort of an aspirational thing, like if someone trusts you enough to take your advice then that’s good, you’re in a good position, you’re helping people. But the older I get, the more I just have so much trouble trusting anybody who puts themselves in that position.
Courtney: And like, you said maybe she gives good advice, but it sounds like she sure as heck doesn’t follow it. Or maybe she’s just giving everyone crap advice. Who knows. Because yeah. And– and there, there, there might be a– a gender component of this too, you know, depending on the generation, you know, “the woman is not supposed to complain, the woman is supposed to keep a level head, and she’s the one who’s supposed to keep everyone going, and run the family, and make sure everyone’s having a good time.”
Courtney: So, there could be a very gendered connotation to the way she feels like “Oh well, I would never complain about this pain, I wouldn’t complain about this even though he does.” And she’s kind of looking down on him a bit, but I could easily believe that she does have a… you know, maybe she has a higher pain tolerance and maybe it’s true that, if she had the same pain Bill did, maybe she wouldn’t be complaining about it. But like, you’ve got your own pains, honey, and you can let it out! Especially with your family. Especially with Bill! Like you– you have my permission… you– you have my permission!
Courtney: And that’s… yeah… I don’t know, that– that’s a weird one because, as– as someone who does have chronic pain and conditions that cause a lot of injuries, I absolutely occasionally have a thought if– if someone is, you know, like “Oh, I hurt this…” I’ll occasionally have that passing thought in my head too, like “That doesn’t sound like any big deal to me.” But I would never look down on them on that, because not everyone lives with the level of pain that I do. So it’s all, you know, proportional to what people are used to. If that makes sense.
Courtney: Wow… So [sighs] What are the big takeaways from this… I– as someone who has an advice column, she didn’t give anything truly actionable to work on or improve…
Royce: And I don’t know that that was the point. I don’t think this was an attempt to fix anything. And I think maybe that’s the underlying point. Is that, this reads to me like two people have settled into an unhappy, unhealthy marriage, and just aren’t doing anything about it.
Courtney: That is how it seems. Based on this writing alone, that is how that seems. Yeah. I wonder what Bill thinks of her, does he have a low opinion of her as well? Because she clearly has a low opinion of him a lot of the time. Doesn’t really give much of an indication, does it? It’s very one-sided.
Royce: It’s all from her perspective of course.
Courtney: It kind of reminds me, oh my gosh… Royce, do you remember after my grandma died, and we were going through her house, cleaning things out, and organizing, and all that good stuff? And we found these decades old papers written up by a therapist? From my grandmother’s third marriage. It said, I kid you not, about her husband at the time, “It is clear that he has a very low opinion of his wife, but not nearly as low of an opinion as he has about himself.” [groans]
Courtney: When I read that, I could not help but to– I wanted to cry and cackle at the same time. Because that’s just so sad, but that’s probably something that could be analyzed about a lot of unhappy married couples. Like, yeah, you don’t seem to be too fond of your spouse, but your opinion about yourself is even lower than that… so… I don’t know, that was– that was just a little antidote that I thought of.
Courtney: Well, for what it’s worth, I have a very high opinion of you. And I have a high opinion of myself, but I have a higher opinion of you. I think that’s probably the way to do it. So, what do you think? Should we– should we order Miss Heather’s book? Should we pre-order it?
Royce: No… I don’t think “The Divine Tedium of Marriage” is up my alley.
Courtney: [laughs] I forgot that’s what it was called! The divine tedium… What is divine about tedium? I can’t… I can’t… I feel like, because most of the people on Twitter, whom I saw, were ragging on this. A lot of screams of “Divorce!” But I did see just, you know, a few people here and there who definitely– something in there resonated with them. Because I was seeing a few things that are like “Yeah, she’s absolutely right. That is– that is my experience of marriage also.” So, I have no doubt that this is a common enough experience. But I don’t think there is anything aspirational about it. And I think there are just a lot of people who are just not very good at communicating, and self-care, and managing mental health, and the– the triggers that cause the mental health to… to take a dive now and again.
Courtney: As is want to do for many of us, we could use this to– we could leave off by giving everybody our marriage advice, but no! Absolutely not! We will be giving no advice. Yeah now, now that we talked about the generational concerns of being in a relatively lengthy marriage, I’ve also seen some articles recently that are like “Oh Gen Z and their– their wild new dating strategies” that, on the surface, actually seem like an incredibly good thing, but just reeks of the older generation being like “That’s not how people are supposed to date.” So I think we should talk about that maybe maybe next week, huh?
Royce: Next week: a reaction to hardballing.
Courtney: [caricatured voice] Hard…balling! So stay tuned. Because you will not want to miss it! Goodbye~