Are Happy Marriages Really Taboo?
Comedian Ali Wentworth says enough with the unhappy marriage stuff; it’s time to brag about how great it is
You’re happily married. Are you sharing that with the world? Ali Wentworth is worried that you’re not. In an excerpt from her new book, Go Ask Ali, in Town & Country, the comedian shares her “dirty little secret” — that she’s been happily married to George Stephanopoulos for 17 years:
Deep breath. Here goes: I’m happily married. It might be my most boring attribute, and there’s nothing I can do about it! I love my husband and he loves me. The end.”
But that isn’t the end. Her essay is titled “When Did a Happy Marriage Become So Taboo?” so you know where she’s going with this: No one’s talking about their happy marriages, just the miserable ones.
She describes gals’ get-togethers where there’s a lot of husband and former-husband bashing, and the loss of friendships she jokingly claims — she’s a comedian, of course — over her confession of how often she and her hubs have sex (it’s evidently a lot or at least more than they’re getting, and it’s still good and that’s shocking to her friends).
Still, it isn’t all bliss, she wants everyone to know — “I said I love my husband, not that our marriage is perfect. Sure, we fight (which is nonsensical, because I’m the one who’s always right), but we have a utilitarian marriage and manage to still maintain some romance.” But ultimately, she writes, it speaks to a bigger issue in our society, she says — there’s trouble in marriageland:
Sitcoms depict married life as a bickering couple; he’s usually heavy and not very attractive, and she’s usually too smart and beautiful for him. There’s a lot of eye-rolling. The couple grudgingly put up with each other and a laugh track. Switch to a cable drama: one of them has murdered the other. The best-selling books and records are always slanted toward relationships gone bad. And how would daytime talk shows survive if we couldn’t trawl for signs of infidelity or enforce paternity tests? It’s embedded in our culture.
Is Wentworth right, that we only hear about unhappy marriages? Maybe in sitcoms, greeting cards and in comedy routines. But if that’s true, then why are we inundated with couples who share the “secrets” of their long marriage (as if what works for them will work for everyone)? Why do we go crazy when a couple celebrates a wedding anniversary, especially if it has some legs — 25, 50, 75 years — to it? And what about the way people curate their picture-perfect romantic relationships on Instagram and Facebook, with all sorts of declarations of gushy love? You just can’t get more pro-marriage than that!
Easy to make fun of marriage
Still, people like to make fun of marriage because, well, because. It’s easy to make fun of. The premise of promising yourself for life to one person is ripe for humor, (and tragedy) but, hey — sometimes it works really well. Other times, not. But it’s the only thing that we’re expected to commit to for life, except if you become a mom or dad — and even then, kids grow up, move on and out at some point, and being a parent becomes a lot less hands-on. Not so with a spouse; the older they get, the more hands-on things are going to be.
Still, young people overwhelmingly want to marry, no matter the negative portrayals of marriage. Clearly, despite all the unhappy marriage talk, hope springs eternal.
But I have to wonder if this alleged anti-marriage message is any different than the barrage of messages outliers hear. We singles are constantly reminded about how unhappy and lonely we must be — how no man or woman could truly be happy being single, and thus we need help (well, women) “surviving” the holidays or Valentine’s Day alone. The divorced among us are shamed about our “failed marriage.” God forbid we should write about about all the good things that have come from the end of a marriage! And forget about even trying to chat up the joys of being a single parent by choice, or a childfree couple. Selfish, selfish, selfish!!
Marriage is privileged
Marriage and romantic relationships shouldn’t be privileged over any other kind of state of being. But, of course, they are.
I don’t want to quibble with Wentworth. I’m truly happy that she and Stephanopoulos are happily married and getting it on — more power to them. That’s the choice they made — and continue to make every day — it seems to be working for them and that’s the end of that. She can keep it on the down-low, as she says she feels forced to do, or she could talk as openly about it as much as her female friends with crappy marriages or torrid love affairs can handle.
“I can’t compete on that level,” she says, jokingly, about a friend who can go on and on about her husband who’s a misogynistic, narcissistic prick. Here’s the thing, Ali — you don’t have to. Life isn’t a competition. Maybe if we stopped seeing it as one, we could just live and let live.
This was originally published on my blog, OMG Chronicles.